Oct 06

Fortify Your Wings – Strength Building For Flyers


Photo by Michi Moore Images

You’re a flyer, so all you have to do is be little, and put
your foot behind your head, right? Well, both of those things might help, I
guess, but after more than 7 years of flying, and coaching flyers I can tell
you, no, that’s not quite the whole shebang.

In as much as bases need the strength (along with the
technique) to hold and toss their flyers, flyers need the strength to stand on
an almost non-existent, constantly moving surface, keep their entire body controlled
and rigid with nothing but air around them, lift their leg up to their head and
hold it with one hand, throw both legs up past their shoulders and snap them
back with nothing to push off of, catch themselves on the shoulders of two
independent human targets, oh yeah, and keep your toes pointed the entire time.
You don’t need to look like a pro-wrester, but yeah, you have to be strong.
It’s the only way the stunt is going to look good, and it’s the only way the
stunt is going to stay safe, so get your perky little self to the gym.

Here’s what you need to focus on: Abs, traps, triceps,
biceps, quads, glutes, calves. That’s the bare minimum to pull a heelstretch,
so a couple of trips to the gym a week should do it!

Sounds like a lot? Well, keeping yourself in shape when you
are practicing, stunting and performing constantly is its own reward. Trust me,
the skills will come easier, and you will be safer, if you can give yourself
the physical tools you need- strength and body awareness.

Here are some exercises to try that will work these body

*Note – these exercises are designed to improve your muscle
tone, and give you more control over your body, not bulk you up. You don’t need
to use really heavy weights, and you should ALWAYS stretch out after your


  • Planks – Position yourself at the top of a pushup, ensuring your hands are
    directly below your shoulders. Create one long straight line from your
    shoulders down to your heels, making sure your hips do not dip below that
    line. Concentrate on engaging your abdominal muscles to keep your body in
    line. Hold this position for a count of 20, then rest. Then, put your
    weight in your right hand, and move your feet so that you are balanced on
    the side of your right foot. Raise your left hand toward the ceiling, so
    you are in a “T” position. Again, create one long line, from your head to
    your feet, ensuring your hips don’t drip out of line. Hold this for a
    count of 20, then rest. Repeat on the left side. Repeat the center plank,
    right, and left, twice more each, for a total of 3 sets.
  • Crunches – Of course, the old standby, everyone should do these to actively engage
    the core muscles and build abdominal strength. Lying on your back with
    your knees bent (preferably with your knees and hips at 90 degrees and
    your feet off the floor, but if this is uncomfortable, keep your feet on
    the floor), place your arms where you feel comfortable (if that means
    behind your head, spread your elbows out so they are well behind your
    ears, and DO NOT pull your head up with your shoulders). Go slowly, and as
    you lift, actively think about contracting your abdominal muscles, so you
    bring your chest and your hips up at the same time- this is not pressing
    your feet to the ground and pulling your neck with your arms, use your abs
    to make it happen. 20 slow crunches, followed by 20 pulses, going from a
    fully crunched position, to halfway between the crunch and the floor.
    Repeat the crunch and the pulse twice more each, for a total of 3 sets.
    Then change to your side to work your obliques. Again, raise your
    shoulders toward the ceiling using your abs, not your shoulders, or by
    pressing your arm into the ground. Do 20 slowly, concentrating on form,
    followed by 20 pulses. Repeat for a total of 2 sets, then switch to the other
    side. Do 2 sets each of crunches and pulses on this side as well. If you
    didn’t feel much of a challenge with the first set, lying on your back,
    repeat them after the side sets, and next time, go for 25 or 30.
  • Supermans – Lying on your back, position your arms above your head in a goal post
    position, and your legs together with your toes pointed. You will tighten
    virtually all of your muscles, but concentrating on your core, to lift
    your arms, including your shoulders, and your legs, a few inches off the
    floor. Don’t forget to breathe, and hold this for 15 seconds. Roll on to
    your stomach, and do the same, using primarily the muscles in your low
    back and your glutes to accomplish the lift. Repeat on your stomach and
    back twice more, for a total of 3 sets.
  • Horizontal kicks – Lying on your back with your arms above your head in a goal post
    position, you will kick your right leg up toward your head, as far as it
    will go without risking injury. You will keep your left leg completely
    straight and keep your heel on the floor. You will keep your right leg
    completely straight during the kick, and on the way back down, stop it an
    inch or so before it touches the ground. This will work your glute and
    thigh muscles, as well as prevent you from banging your heel into the
    ground. Do 15 of these, and switch to the left leg. Then repeat the right
    leg and left leg twice more each, for a total of 3 sets.
  • Weighted shrugs – Stand with feet shoulder width apart, and with arms at your
    sides, hold a weight that offers a little bit of challenge in each hand,
    but nothing so heavy that it risks injury. Being mindful to keep your back
    straight, and your shoulder blades drawn slightly together to avoid
    slouching during the exercise, raise your shoulders toward your ears, then
    release back to neutral. 20 reps per set, 3 sets.
  • Tricep dips – on a bench, or flat surface that is at around your knee height,
    stand in front of it, like you mean to sit down. Instead, facing away from
    it, put the lams of your hands on the edge, and move your feet away, so
    that you are supporting your weight mostly in your hands. Bend your elbows
    so that your tush drops into a deeper sitting position (your feet should
    be such that your knees are in approximately a 90 degree angle when your
    arms are straight). Go slowly, and dip to where your elbows are at about
    90 degrees. Return to the top, again putting your weight in your arms and
    using your feet on the floor just for balance (if you find yourself
    cheating, you can extend your legs so that you are balancing on your
    heels). 15 reps, followed by 15 pulses, going from fully dipped, to
    halfway between the full dip and the top. Repeat 2 more times for a total
    of 3 sets. As with any exercise, you can adjust the number of reps if you
    find it too difficult, or not challenging enough.
  • Bicep curls – Find a weight that offers a little challenge, but doesn’t risk
    injury (so, you should feel some resistance when you first pick it up, but
    your first rep isn’t very difficult, 8 or 10 lbs is usually a good place
    to start with). Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, hold your
    arms down at your sides, but so that the palms of your hands are facing
    forward. Slowly bend your arms at the elbow to raise the weights up toward
    your shoulders, being mindful to keep your back straight, and your hips
    tucked slightly so your tush doesn’t stick out. 15 reps, and rest,
    followed by 2 more sets of 15.
  • Lunges – Stand with most of your weight on one foot, with your other foot behind
    you for balance (your feet should be far enough apart so that when you
    bend your knees to dip down, both knees are at approximately 90 degrees).
    Keeping your back straight and your abs engaged, dip down, keeping most of
    your weight in your front leg. Dip slowly until your back knee almost
    touches the floor, and both your knees are at an approximate 90 degree
    angle. Do 15 reps going from standing, to the full lunge. Then, pulse for
    15 reps, going from a full lunge to the point halfway between a full lunge
    and standing. Repeat the full lunge reps and the pulse reps two more times
    each, for a total of 3 sets. For more of a challenge, this can be done
    with weights, held in each hand, with arms in a neutral position at your
  • Squats – Spread your feet wide, so that when you are in a full squat, with your
    tush at about the level of your knees, your knees are at a 90 degree
    angle, in line with your ankles, not out over your toes. Keeping your back
    nice and straight, with your hips rotated under so you tush isn’t sticking
    out, do 15 reps with a slow squat, bringing your knees to 90 degrees, and
    return to standing. Then, 15 quick pulses, going from a full squat, to
    half way between squat and standing. Repeat the squat reps, and the pulse
    reps two more times each, for a total of 3 sets.
  • Toe raises – Stand near a wall or other surface that you can touch for
    balance. Standing on your right foot, bring your left leg up, so that your
    knee is about the same height as your hip, and your foot is below your
    knee (Concentrate on keeping your hips in line with one another, rather
    than concentrating on where your left foot is, or standing in posse).
    Using the wall or other surface for balance, rise up onto the ball of your
    right foot, concentrating on using your calf muscle to stay stable while
    you lift. Do 15 of these, and switch to the left foot. Then repeat each
    side twice more for a total of 3 sets.


These exercises are not a complete workout in and of
themselves. Work them in with some cardio, and any other exercises you feel you
need to give your body a well rounded work out, and target specific areas that
you think need work.

After your workout, grab a mat or a towel, and sit down for
a good ten to fifteen minute stretch. You might be surprised how much easier
the stretches come when your muscles are good and warm, so don’t fool yourself
and put your foot behind your head just for giggles- you’ll feel it the next
day- just go for stretches you do normally, and do as much as feels good, don’t
push them too much. Take your time, have some water, and breathe through the

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